We had a ton of calls and emails about last week’s column. Many of you wanted to know more about Jeff Fulghum and how he is doing. I can only say that he is out and about but still needs some time to get reintegrated into Bluffton life. There is also the distinct possibility that he may have to heal a bit before he is his former active self. Nonetheless, when you see him, give him a handshake and tell him thanks.
There were also a fair number of calls concerning the budget and budget process, especially if the budget gives us any clues as to whether the state government is shrinking, expanding or staying about the same. The answer is that by most indicators, we are shrinking the size of state government. While the budget numbers have been declining for years, perhaps a better metric is the number of state employees.
In 2001, there were roughly 67,000 workers on the state payroll. In March of this year, the headcount was a little over 60,000. That is a decrease of around 11%. While that may seem like a smallish reduction, except that our state has traditionally run a very lean operation, and in that context, 11% reduction is profound. Needless to say, any deadwood that may have been there is long gone. In my experience, we have a pretty dedicated, competent workforce at the state.
One of our best, most competent state employees is my buddy Al Stokes, the site manager at the Waddell Mariculture Center here in Bluffton. Al and his crew do great work on a lot of fronts, including the various stocking programs and a number of research projects. Al was also one of the first folks I called when I heard about the problems on the Bluffton sandbars. Part of the Department of Natural Resources mandate is to monitor the rivers for potential pollution issues. Part of his response was to send me some info on what some of the other areas of the state are doing to protect their water quality.
One of the more interesting programs is being done by the City of Columbia and is called “Drains are not Dumps” to help folks understand that whatever goes into the storm drains goes directly into the river. Like us, they have a big problem with pet waste, motor oil, yard debris, and a host of other substances that residents choose to make “disappear” down the storm drains.
Our friends up in Horry County have a tremendous stormwater management problem that has resulted in beach water bacteria readings that far exceed safe swimming standards. Obviously, this has tremendous implications for their tourism industry. They are in the middle of a multiyear program to address the problem. The cost estimate for the effort is somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million.
As more people move to our part of the Lowcountry and more folks discover what a great place this is to visit, the pressure on our waters continues to grow. If we can’t show an appropriate level of respect for our natural resources, we are in for some unpleasant surprises. We all want clean water and we all want low taxes. If we don’t do the right thing, we may find ourselves with neither. My brand of conservatism assumes a certain level of individual responsibility.